Justia Education Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in North Dakota Supreme Court
Motisi v. Hebron Public School District
Joseph Motisi appealed a district court order and judgment denying his petition for writ of mandamus. Hebron Public School District employed Motisi as a teacher during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 school years. Prior to his employment with the District, Motisi worked as a teacher in another North Dakota school district for four years. On April 23, 2021, the District sent Motisi a Probationary Teacher Notice of Nonrenewal, informing him the District would not be renewing his teaching contract. Motisi sent a letter to the District on April 26, 2021, notifying the District of his acceptance of a continuing contract for the 2021-22 school year. The District then notified Motisi he was unable to accept an offer to renew a contract because his contract was nonrenewed. Motisi applied for a temporary restraining order, a preliminary injunction, and later for a writ of mandamus. The court issued an order denying Motisi’s petition for writ of mandamus, stating the sole issue was “whether Motisi is a probationary employee under N.D.C.C. 15.1-15-02(8)” and that “Motisi concedes that if he was a probationary teacher, the District complied with the law.” The district court rejected Motisi’s argument that because he had four years of experience at another school, he could not be considered a probationary teacher under the statute. The court ultimately found “[t]he District followed the requirements of the statute when it non-renewed Motisi’s contract” and “Motisi has not demonstrated that he has a clear legal right” to the renewed contract. The North Dakota Supreme Court determined the district court did not err in interpreting N.D.C.C. 15.1-15-02(8), and affirmed judgment. View "Motisi v. Hebron Public School District" on Justia Law
Ayling v. Sens, et al.
Robin Ayling appealed a judgment dismissing her claims against Mary Ann Sens, M.D., UND School of Medicine employees, and the Grand Forks County State’s Attorney and Board of Commissioners relating to her son’s death. Ayling’s son, Blake, was a student at UND. He was last seen alive at an on-campus party at approximately 1:30 a.m. on March 24, 2012. He was found dead in the rail yard south of UND’s campus at approximately 6:30 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. on March 24, 2012. Dr. Sens performed the autopsy on the same day. She determined Blake was intoxicated, he had a 0.278 blood-alcohol concentration at the time of death, he died from blood loss, and his death was accidental. After learning of the autopsy results, Ayling questioned the blood-alcohol concentration because Blake reportedly did not show signs of intoxication at the party or before the party. Ayling met with Dr. Sens in April 2013, and Sens explained the autopsy report and defended her conclusions. On December 27, 2013, Ayling spoke with a forensic toxicologist who questioned Dr. Sens’ methods in performing the autopsy. The toxicologist believed Blake's urine and vitreous humor should have been tested for alcohol to corroborate the blood test. Ayling sued Dr. Sens, UND School of Medicine employees, and Grand Forks County employees in February 2017, alleging Sens failed to competently perform a medical autopsy as a part of the investigation of Blake's death. Ayling alleged the other Defendants failed to properly supervise Dr. Sens. The district court concluded Ayling’s claims against the Defendants were untimely. After reviewing the record, the North Dakota Supreme Court agreed with the district court that Ayling’s voluminous discovery requests did not relate to the statute of limitations issue and would not have created an issue of material fact supporting denial of the summary judgment motion. The court’s discovery decisions were not an abuse of discretion. View "Ayling v. Sens, et al." on Justia Law
New Public Sch. Dist. #8 v. North Dakota Bd. of Public Sch. Edu.
New Public School District #8 appealed a judgment affirming the State Board of Public School Education's decision approving annexation of certain real properties to the Williston School District. New Public School District argued the State Board erred in approving the petition for annexation because the property to be annexed was not contiguous to the Williston School District before the petition was heard. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "New Public Sch. Dist. #8 v. North Dakota Bd. of Public Sch. Edu." on Justia Law
Williston Education Association v. Williston Public School Dist. No. 1
The Williston Education Association ("WEA") sued the Williston Public School District No. 1 ("District") on behalf of Williston middle school teachers. The WEA claimed the District owed teachers compensation for extra classes they taught during the 2012-2013 school year. The underlying dispute was whether prime time constituted a "class period" under the terms of the Agreement. If the court interpreted "class period" to include prime time, the District would owe teachers additional compensation because they taught six or more class periods plus prime time during the 2012-2013 school year. If prime time was not a "class period," the majority of teachers only taught six class periods; the District would not owe them extra compensation. The district court interpreted "class period" to include prime time. It awarded summary judgment in favor of the WEA and ordered the District pay damages to the teachers. The District filed a timely appeal. When a trial court can reasonably draw conflicting inferences from undisputed facts, summary judgment is improper. The Supreme Court concluded the district court erred when it granted the WEA's motion for summary judgment, finding there were multiple issues of fact from which "differing reasonable inferences could be drawn." The Supreme Court reversed and remanded for the trial court to resolve these issues of fact. View "Williston Education Association v. Williston Public School Dist. No. 1" on Justia Law
Lynch v. The New Public School District No. 8
Plaintiff-Appellant Danni Lynch appealed a district court's grant of summary judgment dismissing her action against The New Public School District No. 8 for breach of contract, damage to professional reputation, intentional infliction of emotional harm and negligent infliction of emotional harm. Appellant had taught fifth grade classes at Stony Creek school for eighteen years. In 2008, she was informed she would be transferred to Round Prairie school to teach second grade. She sent a letter to the District's superintendent asking why she was being transferred. The District responded that the decision to transfer her was made "to promote the best interests of the students" and that the decision would not be changed. Appellant did not show on the first day she was to teach second grade; the District construed Appellant's letter explaining why she was a no-show as a resignation. Appellant then filed suit against the District. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that: (1) Appellant was not entitled to a notice of nonrenewal; (2) the District did not violate its grievance procedures; and (3) the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Appellant's motion to compel discovery. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Lynch v. The New Public School District No. 8" on Justia Law
North Dakota v. Alaniz
Defendant Christian Antonio Alaniz, Jr., appealed an order deferring imposition of sentence entered after he conditionally pled guilty to possession of a controlled substance and possession of drug paraphernalia. Defendant argued the district court erred in denying his motion to suppress evidence because there was not probable cause to justify the search of his person and the exception to the probable cause requirement for warrantless searches by school officials did not apply. Troy Vanyo was a police officer with the Grand Forks Police Department and was assigned to work as a school resource officer at a high school in Grand Forks. Vanyo had received information about possible drug use involving students in an area approximately a block and a half from the high school. One of the students was later identified as Defendant. The students walked to a town square area and Vanyo followed in his patrol car. Vanyo testified the students were seated when they saw him, stood up, and quickly walked toward a stage area in the town square. Later, Vanyo observed Defendant waiting to talk to the attendance secretary and he informed the school principal that Defendant was the other individual he observed in the town square and suspected was involved in drug activity. The principal took Defendant into a detention room and Vanyo followed them. Vanyo testified the principal questioned Defendant, Vanyo testified he told Defendant something like "if you have anything on you, you need to lay it on the table now." Defendant emptied his pockets, which contained a glass pipe and synthetic marijuana. In moving to suppress the evidence, Defendant argued the police failed to advise him of his rights under "Miranda v. Arizona," (384 U.S. 436 (1966)), there was not probable cause justifying the search of his person, and the exception to the probable cause requirement for searches by school officials did not apply. The district court denied the motion, ruling the reasonableness standard for searches by school officials applied and the search was reasonable. Defendant then entered a conditional guilty plea and reserved his right to appeal the court's denial of his suppression motion. Upon review, the Supreme Court concluded that the search was not excessively intrusive in light of Defendant's age, gender, and nature of the suspicion. View "North Dakota v. Alaniz" on Justia Law
M.M. v. Fargo Public School Dist. #1
Petitioner Thomas Moore appealed a judgment that dismissed his claim for medical expenses incurred by his son, M.M., in their personal injury action against Fargo Public School District No. 1 and Eugenia Hart. In May 2004, M.M., a 15-year-old student at Discovery Middle School in Fargo, was seriously injured while practicing a bike stunt in the school auditorium in preparation for '60s Day, part of the curriculum for Hart's history class. Moore and M.M. brought a personal injury action against the District and Hart. The district court dismissed the action against the District as a matter of law, and a jury returned a verdict in favor of Hart. The Supreme Court concluded the court erred in ruling the recreational use immunity statutes barred the action against the District and erred in excluding certain evidence from the jury in the action against Hart, and we reversed and remanded for a new trial. On remand, Hart settled, and the case was tried to the jury only against the District. At the close of the evidence, the district court rejected the District's request to include a line on the special verdict form for apportioning fault to Petitioner, concluding there was no evidence from which a jury could find him was at fault. The jury returned a verdict allocating 30 percent fault to "Eugenia Hart and any other employee of the Fargo Public School District" and 70 percent fault to M.M. The jury awarded Petitioner $285,000 for past economic damages based on M.M.'s medical expenses incurred while he was a minor. Because M.M.'s fault was greater than the fault of the District, the court entered judgment dismissing the action and awarding costs in favor of the District. The court also denied Moore's request to have judgment entered in his favor for $85,500, representing 30 percent of the $285,000 awarded by the jury for M.M.'s past medical expenses. Following the majority rule, the court concluded "a child's negligence should be considered in determining the extent of a parent's recovery against a third party for medical expenses paid." Because Petitioner's claim for past economic damages derived from M.M.'s injuries, and M.M. was denied recovery under North Dakota's modified comparative fault laws, the Supreme Court concluded the district court correctly dismissed Petitioner's claim for medical expenses. View "M.M. v. Fargo Public School Dist. #1" on Justia Law
N.D. State Board of Higher Education v. Jaeger
The North Dakota Attorney General, representing the State Board of Higher Education, petitioned the Supreme Court to exercise its original jurisdiction and enjoin Secretary of State from placing a referendum measure on the June 2012 primary election ballot regarding 2011 N.D. Sess. Laws ch. 580 ("Senate Bill 2370"). The submission of the referendum measure to the Secretary of State reinstated N.D.C.C. 15-10-46, which requires the University of North Dakota (UND) to use the "Fighting Sioux" nickname and logo for its intercollegiate athletic teams. A majority of the Court would have exercised its discretionary original jurisdiction and consider the underlying constitutional issue about the Board's authority over UND; two members of the Court concluded this was not an appropriate case in which to exercise its discretionary original jurisdiction. As a result, there were not enough members willing to decide the constitutional issue. The Court therefore did not address the constitutional issue presented, and declined to enjoin the Secretary of State from placing the referendum measure on the ballot. View "N.D. State Board of Higher Education v. Jaeger" on Justia Law
Brandvold v. Lewis &Clark Public Sch. Dist.
Plaintiffs Lee Brandvold, Steve Bigelow, Dwight Johnson, Nikki Johansen, and Bruce Peterson (collectively "Brandvold") appealed a district court judgment dismissing their petition for declaratory and injunctive relief. In 2009, the school board of the District voted to close the elementary school located in Ryder as part of an overarching reorganization plan. In February 2010, Brandvold filed a petition in district court alleging that the reorganization process had been tainted by fraud because the Berthold Public School District had not disclosed during its reorganization process information about certain outstanding debts it owed on lease-purchase transactions. Brandvold sought a declaration that the reorganization was invalid and that the District be dissolved and the former districts be reinstated. Brandvold also sought an injunction prohibiting the District from closing any school within the District. The District moved for judgment on the pleadings for Brandvold's failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The district court granted the motion, and judgment was entered dismissing the petition. On appeal, Brandvold challenged only the dismissal of the request for declaratory relief, not the dismissal of the request for injunctive relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, concluding the district court did not err in granting judgment on the pleadings dismissing the petition for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the alleged irregularities in the reorganization process were rendered moot by the completion of a District-wide election: "[c]onstruing the petition in the light most favorable to Brandvold and accepting the allegations in the petition as true, we conclude no justiciable controversy was presented and the district court did not err in dismissing the petition ." View "Brandvold v. Lewis &Clark Public Sch. Dist." on Justia Law
Godon v. Kindred Public Sch. Dist.
Plaintiff-Appellant Kathleen Godon appealed the district court's judgment dismissing her complaint for breach of contract against the Defendant-Appellee Kindred Public School District. Plaintiff entered into a teaching contract with the School District for the 2008-2009 school year. In addition to the teaching contract, Plaintiff’s employment was subject to a professional negotiation agreement between the Kindred School Board and the Kindred Education Association. This more extensive agreement provides other terms of employment, including the base salary for a teacher in the District and the types and amounts of leave a teacher receives. The agreement did not provide for unpaid leave, but before the start of the school year, Plaintiff asked the District administration to allow her to take a week off work for travel. The District approved her request but required that she take unpaid leave for the days she could not apply personal leave. Plaintiff agreed to these terms. When school was not scheduled to be in session because of spring break, the District held school to make up for a storm day cancellation. Plaintiff did not work that day. While Plaintiff was away, the District cancelled school to allow employees and students to respond to imminent flooding in the Red River and Sheyenne River valleys. The District paid all teachers who did not request leave for this period as if school had been in session. Of four teachers who had previously requested and were granted leave during the flood cancellation period, only Plaintiff challenged the District's decision and filed a grievance. She claimed she should have been paid like all other teachers in the District who did not teach during the flood period. The District denied her grievance. Plaintiff brought suit in district court, alleging the District breached her teaching contract and violated her equal protection rights under the North Dakota Constitution. The district court ruled in favor of the District, finding that Plaintiff’s teaching contract was amended when the District granted her request for leave to travel. Upon review, the Supreme Court held Plaintiff's arguments as without merit. The Court affirmed the District and the district court's decisions.